Faith Runner

Faith Runner

Runner.jpgFaith Heywood Illava Runner of West Tisbury died on February 10 at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital after a brief illness. Her death was as gentle as her life, with her daughter by her side. She was 93.

Faith Heywood Illava was born in New York City in 1920, the daughter of Karl and Agatha (Brown) Illava. Faith’s father was a noted artist, educator and sculptor. Her mother’s career as a buyer for Macy’s Department Store included overseas travel; she was responsible for cementing a relationship between the store and the Irish Linen Guild. Faith and her sister Mary lived in Greenwich, Conn., where Mr. Illava was an art instructor at the Edgewood School.

One of Mr. Illava’s more famous sculptures, a memorial to the 107th New York Infantry Regiment, can be found in Central Park, near 5th Avenue and 67th Street. He used veterans of the 107th as models for the group of seven soldiers he sculpted. He had himself served as a cavalry sergeant with the 107th, which fought with distinction in France during WWI.

Faith was educated at the Edgewood School and Rollins College in Florida. She served as a staff sergeant map maker with the U.S. Eighth Army in France during WWII. Her unit narrowly escaped capture by the Wehrmacht during the 1944-1945 surprise German offensive referred to later as the Battle of the Bulge.

Like most veterans, Faith had stories to share of her years during the war. There was a particularly scary one about her Europe-bound troop ship. When the ship safely arrived in Calais the WAC company was informed that a German U-Boat had followed them halfway across the Atlantic. Faith said people fainted.

After the war, Faith worked for a brief period at Parents’ Magazine in the layout department, and later as a receptionist at The New Yorker.

She married Earl Runner of Wheeling, W.V., and Washington, D.C., in 1947. He was a stockbroker and realtor, as well as a sculptor. They moved often because of his work, living in Maryland, West Virginia, and New York City. The marriage produced a daughter and a son, ending in divorce in 1956.

After the divorce, Faith and the children moved to Manhattan to live with her mother. Two years later, the four moved to Rye, New York, where they stayed for four years. They then sailed to England and lived in a rented house in Oxford. Faith had fallen in love with England during the war and was eager to return. She also wanted to provide her children with a different educational experience. The children attended local schools, both boarding and day.

A few years later, the family returned to America and bought a house in Westport, Conn. Faith, learning about land for sale in West Tisbury, used a small inheritance from her father to buy the Alley family property that fronted on Tisbury Great Pond, later adding the contiguous Hanley property to the holding. As her son said, “The heart knows the way home.”

Faith had been a summer visitor to the island since infancy, vacationing with her father’s family, the Morningstars, at their home on Nashawena Park, Oak Bluffs. The home was later owned by Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke. Faith’s father, an avid sailor and lover of catboats, would often sail to the Island from Connecticut, his two young daughters as crew. During her childhood years, Faith’s family returned during the summer months, finding places to rent all over the island. One camp on the Lagoon was named Kinder Cute, she recalled, which it decidedly was not.

Faith and Earl Runner were reunited in 1967, and made their permanent home on her West Tisbury property. They built two four-unit apartment buildings, naming their rental enterprise Cove House-Studio House Apartments. Earl also continued to create sculptures from wood, stone and bronze. Unlike Faith’s father, he preferred abstract design to the representational.

When Earl died in 1974, Faith stayed on and was joined by her daughter to help run the business.

“Faith was a gifted and inspired mother,” said her daughter. “She made wonderful Halloween costumes, was a den mother to my brother’s Cub Scout Troop, and had great patience with her young children. She drew clever illustrations to explain something to us, and answered every question we asked. She was loving and forgiving. She did not impose traditional values on her children, believing instead that exposing them to a wide range of possibilities was best. She opened our eyes to the natural world and taught us by example how to treat all creatures, even tiny ones, with wonder and respect. She taught us, from a very early age, to be polite, believing good manners were essential.”

Faith was an unfailingly kind and gracious person, generous and affectionate, possessed of warmth and a natural elegance. She loved reading; she enjoyed cats and observed them with unalloyed admiration; she was a gifted artist, though she produced only a small body of work in her lifetime; she had a deep and throaty laugh and an infectious hilarity when amused. She liked everyone she met, made friends easily, and attracted an unusual mix of wonderful people.

She is survived by her daughter, Faith “Hasty” Runner of West Tisbury; son Earl “Tersh” Runner III of Mount Holly, Vermont; two grandsons, Samuel Runner of Cuttingsville, Vermont, and Benjamin Runner of Tisbury, and four nieces. Faith was predeceased by her younger sister, Mary Illava Luttinger of New York State.

A celebration of her life is being planned.

Donations in Faith’s memory may be made to Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, P.O. Box 1748, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.